These words of the prophet Jeremiah were spoken in the 6th century BC to God’s people living in exile in Babylon—people longing to return to their home in Judah. Jeremiah reminds us, as the Hebrew scriptures often do, that God listens to us when we pray [see Exodus 3:7 and Psalm 40:1 just to point out a couple].
God listens to our praise and our cries, our thanksgivings and our laments, our confessions, and even our requests. God listens to our prayers and our prayers are at their best when we are honest and vulnerable. Pick a Psalm, any Psalm, and you will find honest and vulnerable language that gives voice to our praise, gratefulness, fears, anger, hatred, laments, and intercessions. If we cannot go to God with honest expressions of what we feel, where can we go?
Yet as human beings we like standards—we like to have line by line instructions of how to do things. When we pray we want to make sure we are saying the right things. So Jesus gave us an example—a model prayer—the Lord’s Prayer.
There are several variations of the Lord’s Prayer that have made their way in and around the life of the church. There is the traditional version that we use at Huguenot on Sunday mornings—the version that many of you probably memorized, maybe with slight variations, when you were a child:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.
There is the ecumenical version that is found at #894 in The United Methodist Hymnal. This version uses language intended to be shared across denominations—although I don’t think I have actually ever heard anyone use this text:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.
More recently a new Bible translation, the Common English Bible, that is in the process of publication gives us this version from the Gospel of Matthew:
Pray like this:
Our Father who is in heaven,
uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom
so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you,
just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one. [Matthew 6:9-13 CEB]
Note that the “kingdom, power, and glory” line is not present in the Common English Bible. This doxology to the prayer is not present in most modern Bible translations because that language is not found in the earliest manuscripts we have of Matthew. A scribe or someone apparently inserted the doxology into the manuscript that became the reference for the King James Version in 1611 which then became the source, slightly modernized, for the version of the prayer most people use today.
Of course, these words—in whatever form they are found—are not intended to be some magical incantation that open a secret portal to God. Prayer is a conversation with God and these words are intended to suggest to us what our side of the conversation might be like. When we talk with God we want to acknowledge who we are talking to and why we desire to be in conversation. We need to ask forgiveness before God and remember that we are called to forgive others. We give thanks for all that God has provided and seek God’s will for our lives.
Acknowledge God, ask forgiveness, give thanks, and seek God’s will—these are the fundamental elements of our side of the conversation with God that is prayer. But there is another side to the conversation. In prayer, not only do we speak to God, but God speaks to us. We must never forget the part of prayer that is God’s. Perhaps the most significant part of prayer is that part when we listen for God—perhaps the most important part of prayer is silence.
When God speaks to us—that is when we discover the assurance that God is with us. When God speaks to us—that is when God offers the guidance we need for the living of our lives. When God speaks to us—God can change our lives.
We know that God hears us when we pray. When we pray we must also listen for God. Prayer changes things—when we listen for God, God will transform our lives to be the people God wants us to be.
Grace & Peace, Pastor Rik